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The value of experience: older workers, their importance and their rights

This debate is now over. Thank you to all who took part. A downloadable video file and a summary of the debate are available below.
Equal-Works guest: Kay Carberry, Assistant General Secretary, TUC
Moderator: Jeremy Harrison, Equal-Works Editorial Director, Tribal Education and Technology

End discrimination - open up training to older workers - TUC assistant general secretary Kay Carberry

TUC assistant general secretary Kay Carberry told the equal-works.com web audience on 26 July that older workers should be able to take up apprenticeships. ‘Why aren’t apprenticeships more widely open to people later in their careers who might want to change career or who might want to acquire new skills?’

Kay Carberry, previously head of the TUC’s Equal Rights Department, said our priorities should be to ‘scrutinise everything that happens in the workplace to make sure that it’s free of age discrimination. And secondly train older workers - give older workers more opportunities than they’ve got now.’ ‘

Not all older workers want the same thing’, she emphasised. ‘Somebody who perhaps has been working in an arduous manual job is rightly going to be very concerned if they’re not going to be able to pick up their pension for years after they expected to. Somebody who’s spent their working life in a nice warm office and would like to go on doing that is going to be worried that their employer is going to be expecting them to go earlier than they would prefer’.

‘I think there are a lot of people who have worked in one particular field, who get into their late 50’s early 60’s, don’t want to carry on doing that particular kind of work but would welcome the opportunity to do something a little bit different and quite often they don’t get that opportunity maybe with the same employer, maybe voluntary work.’

She said: ‘We would like to see public policy more finely attuned to individuals needs.

If you’d like to see and hear everything Kay Carberry had to say, you can watch the entire debate on the video link above.

Older Workers and Age Discrimination

One of the biggest issues facing employers today is the ageing workforce. The working population is getting older as the balance of the population changes. There are currently 20 million people aged 50 and over in the UK. By 2030 this figure is expected to reach 27 million – an increase of 37 per cent. This is balanced by a corresponding fall in the proportion of young people in the population. The result is that fewer young people will be available for work and an increasing premium is placed on the skills and experience of older workers.

The UK is by no means the most badly affected country in the EU. More dramatic demographic changes are being faced by southern European countries like Italy, and by Germany which has had a relatively low birthrate for some years. Adjusting to these new realities involves accepting that many people will work longer, both because they remain active and healthy later in life, and because pension expectations are reducing.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations came into effect on 1 October 2006. These have resulted in an increasing number of tribunal victories by older workers complaining of unfairness and age discrimination in the workplace. Organisations must now avoid discrimination on the grounds of age, and need to adopt age-inclusive working practices.

Even so, stereotypical attitudes can make it extremely difficult for even highly qualified professionals to find work after they turn 50.  Kate Jopling, senior policy manager of Help the Aged, commented: “Our research shows that 73 per cent of people agree that older people face discrimination on grounds of age in their everyday lives. Older people want equal treatment and they expect their government to take action on age discrimination." (from The Guardian Society)

In the past, many older workers have been poorly treated and have experienced discrimination through the lack of provision of services and facilities (both in employment and public services), inequality in pay, redundancies, pressured early retirement and unfair termination of employment.

The Equal Initiative in the UK includes a number of Development Partnerships (DPs) specifically working on projects with a primary focus of finding employment, integrating or reintegrating older workers back into the labour market. Some examples of Equal DPs are provided below:

OWEN – Older Worker Employment Network are working to support local adaptability to structural economic change by tackling discrimination faced by workers over the age of 45. 

OWEN have developed a one-to-one support service, accredited modules for the older worker in confidence building and assertiveness, and an employer toolkit for the new age regulations. The OWEN website has received nearly 5000 hits since it was launched in 2006. The key challenge that OWEN has faced is the issue of confidence. Success has been achieved by dedicating one-to-one support to beneficiaries and providing a hand-holding service throughout the job application process. They say that more initiatives are needed specialising on individual needs, support and guidance for re-integrating older workers into the labour market.

SWOOP – South West Opportunities for Older People  is a research and innovation project based at the University of Exeter, designed to assist older people in the South West of England with employability issues.

They deliver programmes to older people on skills coaching, employment advice and guidance, interview training, psychometric testing, work experience, volunteer training, computer training, self-assessment and CV writing, and business start-up/entrepreneurship advice and guidance. They also work closely with employers to challenge negative attitudes towards older workers through workshops, presentations and action learning sets.

Prime Advantage trains companies and individuals aged 45 years and over in the Thames Gateway area. Led by Medway Council the project takes a multi-agency approach in order to overcome the barriers associated with the employment of older workers. As well as raising the employment rate of older workers and improving their access to learning activities, Prime Advantage also works with employers to promote better age management strategy in their businesses. 

Prime Advantage has recruited 249 people and 29 local companies. The project offers more than 40 training modules in engineering, management development and ICT including leadership skills, team management, and word processing. They are working on widening the range of training courses, some of which lead to qualifications, such as CLAIT, or a fork-lift truck licence.

Skills Analysis is an active research programme supported by public, private and voluntary organisations in the South West. Their prime goal is to challenge the preconception that a worker is no longer effective after the age of 50 by addressing the disadvantages that older workers face in the workplace. They are working to influence employers in the recruitment and retention of older workers in SMEs in Automotive, Retail and Food & Drink sectors.

Skills Analysis have developed a Competence Assessment Toolkit and offer innovative e-learning and training methods, in addition to practical information on age diversity issues.

Tick-Tock is working with employers to recruit and retain older workers, improve older people’s control over their working lives, and increase social capital through volunteering. They have initiated numerous projects designed to improve the value for and continuance of the working life of older people, especially the long-term unemployed, part-time workers, Asian women and ex-offenders.

Further information:

Questions debated

Question 1

Conclusion 1( 0:04:26:08 )

Introduction – There are more people aged 50+ and fewer under 30 – UK has less of a problem than many other EU States – Do the benefits of an ageing workforce outweigh the disadvantages? – Number of older workers without occupational pensions has grown by 10% in last decade (now 38%) – 50-60 year olds tend to stay longer in jobs than younger people.

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Question 2

Conclusion 2 ( 0:03:15.11)

Welcome Kay Carberry – Older workers’ choices are constrained by worries about the future – Employers show concerns about their skills levels and appropriateness for further training and retraining – Ages discrimination exists in recruitment and attitudes – Some employers think older workers are too old to learn – There is some overt discrimination.

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Question 3

Conclusion 3 (0:12:05.05)

Union approaches have changed – Used to deal with redundancies by putting older workers forward first – Recently unions have become more aware of issues affecting older workers – Unions helped produce first Government Code of Practice in 1997 – Recently did a joint guide with CIPD – Concern that high proportion of over-50s are working at low skill levels.

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Question 4

Conclusion 4: 07:56:21

Some of the effects of work becoming more intense and longer hours expected may be impacting on older workers – How do we promote an older workforce without discriminating against younger workers? – The importance of social partnership – Despite lack of formal partnership in the UK , TUC is talking to Government about issues around employment of older people.

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Question 5

Conclusion 5: 06:40:23

What about older workers starting their own businesses? – Unions’ main concern is working people and those who have been on low income – But for those with other opportunities, let a thousand flowers bloom – There are union members saying they don’t want to retire early and want their choice – There are others who may have started work in their teens and want to put their feet up or do something else in the community - Unions’ concern is that older workers aren’t viewed as an undifferentiated lump – The more we can see older people’s skills properly-funded, the more they’ll be visible doing demanding work – That will change attitudes.

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Question 6

Conclusion 6: 0:15:15.14

Stark statistics: low number of older workers able to attain Level 2 qualifications – The number struggling with basic skills – Need to make entitlement real – Need to publicise Learndirect, look at upper age limit for apprenticeships – Why not make them available to people later in their careers? – We’re all quite convinced you do see a return on investment in training – Union learning reps are convinced there is a confidence problem among older workers – IT is an issue – For many older workers struggling with IT the answer may be training at the workplace.

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Question 7

Conclusion 7: 0:05:00.00

Today’s 30-40 year olds will have to assume they’ll still be in work at 60 – If they’re in low-skilled occupations at the moment there’ll be less demand for them in years to come – They’re going to have to look for training opportunities and make sure they take them – Older people as care workers for other old people? – Think those who are old and need care would prefer to have a sprightly younger person looking after them.

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Question 8

Conclusion 8 : 0:05:20.18

There isn’t much career guidance for people past 50 – If there’s a union at the workplace it’s more likely that someone will be giving advice – Are some sectors better at encouraging older workers than others? – Not so much sectors but larger companies and larger public sector organisations that have well-developed personal policies and employment practices – What would make a real difference? – Two things: scrutinise everything that happens in the workplace to make sure it’s free of age discrimination – Train older workers and give them more opportunities than they’ve got now.

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